Black Caucus endorses Dixon Carroll conservative is narrowly backed for state treasurer

January 17, 1996|By Marina Sarris | Marina Sarris,SUN STAFF

Black legislators in Annapolis narrowly endorsed an African-American delegate for state treasurer yesterday despite concerns about his conservative voting record.

The 19-14 vote came after one opponent likened the delegate, Richard N. Dixon, to Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas, after Mr. Dixon felt compelled to present his credentials as an African-American.

"There are people who have made comments that I'm not really black," said Delegate Dixon, a Carroll County Democrat. He then stated his contributions to the black community.

Mr. Dixon is controversial among some black lawmakers because he is not a member of the Black Caucus and he abstained on a major affirmative-action vote in the legislature last year.

As a local school board member in the 1970s, he opposed a Martin Luther King Jr. holiday, saying he thought children should be in school learning about the civil rights leader.

Yesterday, caucus members had to decide whether to back an African-American who often has not supported the group's positions or a white candidate who has.

A slim majority chose the former. "He is eminently qualified," said Sen. Nathaniel J. McFadden, a Baltimore Democrat. "Race is a major consideration, but it's not all-consuming."

The other candidate for treasurer, Prince George's County Del. Pauline H. Menes, is a white, liberal Democrat who has sided with the caucus on many issues. She picked up the 14 votes to Mr. Dixon's 19.

As the meeting broke up yesterday, Del. Rushern L. Baker III, a Prince George's Democrat, criticized Mr. Dixon by comparing him to Justice Thomas, the conservative black jurist who opposes affirmative-action programs.

But in another corner of the room, Mr. McFadden loudly proclaimed his support for Mr. Dixon, urging, "Vote for the brother."

Mr. Dixon is regarded as the front-runner in the treasurer's contest because he has the support of House Speaker Casper R. Taylor Jr., an Allegany Democrat. He also has been endorsed -- unanimously -- by House Republicans.

The treasurer is responsible for investing state money, supervising government bond sales and representing lawmakers on the Board of Public Works, which awards state contracts.

Mr. Dixon told the caucus yesterday that he cannot side with the group sometimes because he must reflect the wishes of his conservative, mostly white district.

Last year he abstained from voting on the top caucus priority, a bill increasing the amount of state business earmarked for minority-owned firms. "I voted with my constituency. It was a matter of survival," he said.

Mr. Dixon's answer did not satisfy Mr. Baker, who asked, "Can you imagine if his constituents said they were in favor of slavery? Would he then be in favor of it?"

Del. Frank S. Turner, a Howard Democrat, was similarly troubled. "As elected officials you have a responsibility to show real leadership, which means you have to vote your conscience on certain bills," he said.

Senate Majority Leader Clarence W. Blount, 74, said he will not criticize Mr. Dixon for reflecting the views of "the people who sent him down here."

Mr. Blount, a Baltimore Democrat, said he was more interested in Mr. Dixon's qualifications for the $100,000-a-year treasurer's job. A stockbroker and financial consultant, Mr. Dixon is an assistant vice president of Merrill Lynch in Baltimore.

Some members rejected the comparison to Justice Thomas. "I can say for a fact that Delegate Dixon is not a Clarence Thomas. If I thought he were, I would fight him," said Del. Elijah E. Cummings, a Baltimore Democrat.

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